Electronic Zen: The Alternative Video Generation Talking Heads in Videospace: A Video Meta-Panel with Shirley Clarke, Bill Etra, Nam June Paik, Walter Wright and Jud Yalkut
interview by Jud Yalkut
Originally recorded on February 4, 1973 for broadcast on WBAI-FM.
The following Meta-Panel, so-called because it represents an attempt at an overview of the alternate video scene as of the time of the discussion with a glance into the video future, was one of two hour-long radio discussion panel shows, hosted by Jud Yalkut, for the Pacifica radio station in New York City, WBAI-FM. The shows were part of a weekly series called ARTISTS AND CRITICS, each week dealing with a different art form. During the life of the series, one a month was on the media arts of film or video. The other video panel show, included in this book, was the discussion on the Kitchen, An Electronic Image And Sound Laboratory. This video panel, called now TALKING HEADS IN VIDEOSPACE, was originally recorded for broadcast on February 4, 1973, and its guests were four of the foremost practitioners of video art explorations: Shirley Clarke, proponent of ultimate participation video; Nam June Paik, video pioneer, avant-garde performance artist and co-creator of the Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer; Bill Etra, video artist and co-designer of the Rutt-Etra Video Synthesizer; and Walter Wright, working with computer generated images since 1965, former computer animator for Dolphin, Computer Image Corporation, and designer of his own video synthesizer system.
JUD: Since we have four practitioners of what is called alternate video here, or video art, terms to be defined, we can start out by discussing what do we mean by alternate video at the present time?
WALTER WRIGHT: I’ll start by telling you what I do. I’ve been exploring the use of something that might be called a video synthesizer, and it has the possibilities of transforming or building an abstract image, or changing a real image into something more abstract. The process means that I can take a real video image in, or generate one with oscillators, and then add to it electronic color. Nam June Paik has in fact built one of these machines, being the grand-daddy of this.
NAM JUNE PAIK: Thank you for mentioning, sir. (Laughter)
SHIRLEY CLARKE: Which he sells for a pittance.
WALTER: And Bill and I are going to rebuild Nam June’s.
PAIK: Thank you very much. I think this should be in good solid hands, who know every institution, and how to do things. Distribution is much more important than production. A guy who can start from the distribution end on, that guy will be really good for it. I like what you, Bill, and you, Walter, are doing because we are a small, small stone in a vast sea, and the problem is how to face that vast sea, you know. And it will benefit everyone, and then the video synthesizer can be a solid media, alright. If they made video into a medium, then we can sell video synthesizers as a medium, because this is much more interesting this way. It can be sold eventually for a few hundred dollars. So it will be much cheaper then a portapak, because it has no mechanical moving parts. So, theoretically, the video synthesizer, from all professional technical points of view, should be, if we make as many as portapaks, which is not too many, we should be able to go 1/3rd price of portapak.
SHIRLEY: I have to interrupt you now to ask, does this make an image? What is it, live process?
BILL: It will do either.
SHIRLEY: But, I mean as against the portapak which records, as sort of a pseudo mini-movie camera?
BILL: Carried to its ultimate extreme (Laughter) which is- oh, I don’t know what it would cost to build one now. We’re in the process now of getting together and building one which would go to the ultimate extreme. Television is recorded in a. matrix of 526 by 600 and something lines, vertically and horizontally, and we would be able to put a different color and intensity dot into any one of these points and move it around at will, so it wouldn’t necessarily have to have a camera to generate an image. We would be able to actually paint it.
SHIRLEY: Like painting.
BILL: That’s one of the possibilities. Now you can also take a live image and process it. You could take a person’s face and roll it up into a little ball.
SHIRLEY: But does it replace a camera and a recording device?
PAIK: I think we can always use camera.
BILL: You would need a recording device to record it.
SHIRLEY: My first suggestion would be, since you’re going to work in that area, that you give us, into our hands, an object that would be like a little ball that would actually be a lens similar in a way to a microphone in an audio system, that you can squeeze closed.
JUD: An image collector.
SHIRLEY: Right. An image collector, and you would squeeze it closed to zoom in, and open your hand to zoom out, and through a wire or whatever, send a signal-to a recording apparatus so we could free ourselves finally from the nonsense of looking at video as if it were film, and thus messing up our heads further, (Laughter) since we already see a great many electronic movies, and we don’t see a great many electronic videospaces.
PAIK: Yeah, yeah. I agree completely. I completely agree.
SHIRLEY: And you really have to change some of our physical devices. There’s no reason any longer to have a camera, right? That was something necessary for movie-making; you had to look through the lens in order to see what you were going to shoot. In film, this was fine, but in video, where the finished product is seen in videospace, i.e. a TV monitor or a video projector.
PAIK: That’s it. There is no finished product, because, like your room at the Hotel Chelsea, Shirley, I think that is the most ideal, supreme creation of video so far,, because there you feel the space, and there is no product and it’s more interesting.
SHIRLEY: To me, there is no product.
PAIK: Because that’s the process of a living room. You have integrated videospace with living space.
SHIRLEY: I think I’m ready now for when we have the two-way cable access, or even first cable, and then two-way access. No, my image is: I’m up in my Tepee, you know, the roof, and all of you are with me, and various other artists in New York, in China, in Paris, and Tennessee, altogether into a live mix. That, to me, is the essence of video.
PAIK: I think that is really a very good use of video., in constant video living.
SHIRLEY: Every event that I have seen that fits into the live action process use of video does the thing that no art in front of it ever did before, that makes you understand video., and not fall into the traps of video is like film. It is, but video is also like theater; it’s also like dance; it’s also like music.
PAIK: Video is video.
BILL: Conceptually, it’s beautiful, Shirley, but structurally nearly impossible. My phone doesn’t work half the time.
SHIRLEY: I don’t think that’s important.
BILL: No, it’s not important to the concept. It’s important to the reality.
SHIRLEY: Our minds go faster than the technological manufacturing keeps up.
JUD: That’s been one of the problems with film for ages, that you can’t splice as fast as you can think.
SHIRLEY: Yes. I got into film in the mid-50s, and we all went in and spent the next 15 years trying to develop a hand-held sound camera. Now, when I left film a few years ago, we had the great accomplishment of an Auricon which was there before any of us came and separated the sound system so you could record sound separately, meaning that the manufacturing people have never kept up with the artist, and never kept up with the fantasy and mind of man. But, I think it’s going to get progressively less so. Time feeds everything. And our job is just what we’re doing right now, which is to talk to people, get them to understand some of the possibilities so they want them. Then they’ll make sure we get them. Because manufacturers in a free enterprise system produce to the demand.
JUD: Eric Siegel’s been pushing very much for the manufacturers to come up with new developments which would meet the needs of the practitioners.
SHIRLEY: We never succeeded.
BILL: Everyone in this room has done it. I’ve seen Shirley’s remodeling of the Sony camera.
WALTER: Manufacture our own.
SHIRLEY: That was one of the better moments.
BILL: The glove camera.. (Laughter) Nam June can’t buy a synthesizer.
SHIRLEY: So he made one.
PAIK: And went into making synthesizers. Walter is redesigning synthesizers. Walter’s worked with computers and he’s redesigning them. I, as an artist, found an electronics engineer who’s building a synthesizer because I couldn’t get a synthesizer, or at least I couldn’t get anything that approached what I wanted. It would have cost me a half million dollars.
JUD: It’s an exact analogy to the old days of light shows. You could never go out and but a machine to produce the effect you wanted to produce. You would end up having to get the components and building from scratch for every single image you wanted to produce.
PAIK: Video is very fast., but it’s supposed to be a cool media.
SHIRLEY: What I find fabulous is that I’m basically a very impatient person. I’m amazed that I have managed to survive two years of constant mechanical hang-ups. I have yet myself to participate in or attend any event where the equipment worked. I remember spending 72 hours to get that ferris wheel set up to enjoy it for ten minutes, and the show was over. It’s endless, endless.
PAIK: That’s what I gave as an answer when somebody, the LONG ISLAND NEWSDAY, interviewed me about what I thought of Art and Technology’s Nine Evenings. I said: It’s marvelous, because it showed how technology is fragile. (Laughter) And this is a great accomplishment so that art does blind words for technology. So I think that’s a great achievement and I’m airing some part of that for my Cage show, because it’s a tribute. And number two is that when the last issue of the 1960s came out of Newsweek, which I read in Tokyo while building that synthesizer, and was fighting with those machines, I read what the editor in-chief of NEWSWEEK said the 1960s did, that two things happened: you had ended on the moon, in which all technology worked perfectly; and number two, you had a great blackout where all technology failed., and he had much more fun in the blackout when everything failed than on the moon landing where everything worked. I think that’s a brilliant observation.
SHIRLEY: It is. I think one of the talents that all of us have developed, I know I certainly have, as performers, is that we fill in when the machine fails.
BILL: A basic survival tactic.
SHIRLEY: Communicating person to person with an audience, which is in a way a marvelous thing, because we can assure ourselves, whereas for awhile electronic music had the problem of bringing the human being back into it, the performance. We’ve got the human being in there always.
PAIK: When you had that very difficult session at NET, I think they should have filmed you, then they could have made a wonderful documentary on Shirley Clarke. The greatest show.
SHIRLEY: The artist versus the engineer, or something against women. Are there any lady engineers around here. (NOTE: The radio station.)
JUD: There are several who work the night shifts quite a bit.
SHIRLEY: Oh, good. Because there were none at NET.
BILL: It never works, the equipment doesn’t work.
SHIRLEY: That’s true, but sometimes it does.
BILL: I went to see a friend of mine, Steve Rutt, who’s the inventor who’s working on the machine we’re building, and for a week I got him interested in video. He was into other fields of electronics, and Steve walked around for a week, looking at his scopes around the plant., shaking his head: “It doesn’t work.” None of it works, and he would play it back on the 1/2” machine and the playback would change from time to time, and “it doesn’t work..” and he would look at the broadcast signal, and say: “That’s not what it’s supposed to look like; that’s lousy.” And the fact is that television is one of these non-perfected media, which get very soft.
JUD: Low definition.
WALTER: Yes, low definition.
SHIRLEY: I don’t mind that, because I personally think the aesthetic of the 8mm camera is way beyond the aesthetic of the 35mm camera, you know that heavy monster that sits and watches is not really as beautiful as something that can be held by a human being in your hands. And that’s certainly important here. It’s just that sometimes when it doesn’t work at all- (Laughter) I went recently to see an experience by a young artist from Baltimore who came to New York, and it was interesting because he did it over a period of seven performances, one each night for 15 minutes. He gradually got all his equipment together by the end of the week. (Laughter) But, meanwhile he learned a lot. I went to all of time. Unfortunately, not everybody had the time to do that.
PAIK: Actually, the VISION AND TELEVISION show at Brandeis, the opening was 7:30, and nothing was working in my part, and I had half a floor. (Laughter) Oh, nothing, and one of Charlotte’s TV bras broke, OK?
SHIRLEY: TV bras?
WALTER: In Boston?
PAIK: In Boston, and at 6 o’clock everything closes, all the TV stores.
SHIRLEY: Did you have to buy brassieres or TV sets though?
PAIK: And then, suddenly, miraculously, 15 minutes after the opening, two sets worked, and then I had a great performance as if two sets were all, you see. Always, man is more interesting than machine. So, if man gets turned on., it’s much easier than machines.
SHIRLEY: Of course since you’ve been to my place, more things work. I’m learning more about wires every day. I spent my first year crawling on the floor, looking for which wire to attach. Now I’ve got a little patch thing, and I hit it, and sometimes it works.
BILL: It’s the artist developing into a technician. Sometimes you have to.
SHIRLEY: Ugh. (Laughter)
BILL: You get entrapped by this wonderful stuff that you see you can do if you have a laser, or a video camera, and I took all this stuff to the Avant Garde Festival this year, and it broke, including the tape. The tape came apart. (Laughter)
SHIRLEY: But mine worked this year. The thing I did with Don Snyder, the Oracle, really worked. It’s true we spent 5 to 6 times as long putting it up as we enjoyed it, but there was an atmosphere that was created that was very, very exciting. What I found, by the way, is the most successful thing to do, is what I call game playing, using video to play games, because the human element is built into game playing, and there is that built-in exchange, and if you can find setups that that becomes part of. The thing of Paik’s that I’ve enjoyed are always where there is the live human element being faced with the audience. Sometimes it’s a reaction to a man standing there nude, and on his intimate parts is a little TV monitor. It’s much better for me than watching tapes, that’s for sure.
PAIK: There is a clear distinction between video art and videotaped art, that we cannot enough emphasize this difference.
SHIRLEY: For me, what I do, maybe I’m wrong, I refer to something called videofilm, which uses electronic computers, and all sorts of things, to enhance the ability to put onto a single strand, or many strands, images that are recorded; but then I see next to it a live process, which is an interaction with things which are prerecorded, and basically they imply some kind of a mix of different elements, of people, of prerecorded tapes and cameras, and to me I guess that’s more video.
JUD: And the videofilm can be released as a film or a videotape. There’s an interchange between the two.
SHIRLEY: Right. Is that, by the way, the same as reversing the procedure, where film can be put onto video, i.e. television, cable, or whatever, and therefore will hold up, or do you think that the tape which has been made for a tape holds up better in its original form? Is that an issue about it? Ply suspicion is that, in the long run, it’s not.
JUD: The interchangeability between the two is rapidly being discovered in terms of syntax.
PAIK: Of course. That is important.
SHIRLEY: When our screen sizes change, that will also make a difference.
PAIK: I think the difference between broadcasting and non-broadcasting is in the main technical.
SHIRLEY: It makes a great difference.
PAIK: How we think of it. If communication should be complete, alright then, communication is practically a feedback loop. You go and come back.
BILL: Absolutely. It’s a feedback loop whether it’s a delay line or a few microseconds.
SHIRLEY: Are there lots of friends of ours outside who are waiting? If everybody comes to the Kitchen this Sunday- Paik, who won’t even be physically there, he’ll be in Boston, right? What’s going on right now, you’re at the Kitchen, seeing us right now, and what Paik suggested was, why don’t we play back the audio through a radio when it’s broadcast, and each of us bring some kind of image feed, so that while this is going over the air, the images could be watched, whatever they might be.
PAIK: Actually, you have time to come over to 240 Mercer Street- the Kitchen, alright- then watch and see this program with us.
SHIRLEY: They can do just what we’re talking about; they can leave their houses, dash over to Mercer Street, and watch what’s happening now. This is video.
BILL: If we’re doing a commercial for the Kitchen, I have to say that we’re supported by the New York State Council On The Arts.
SHIRLEY: No, you’re not doing a commercial.
JUD: In other words, you’re listening to the conception of a piece which will be realized when you’re hearing it and watching it at the Kitchen.
WALTER: And Nam June will be phoning in from Boston.
SHIRLEY: And if we’re really very good at miming, we could mouth our own words.
PAIK: Anyway, 240 Mercer Street, and you can reach through subway to E. 8th Street, or Bleecker Street
SHIRLEY: Ok, everybody has arrived. The audience is here, and we say hello. Now we start.
JUD: What’s the picture of the video movement at the present time?
SHIRLEY: Right now.
BILL: No, I have a different outlook than Shirley on what video art is, or what videotape is. The difference between tape and live performance; now this will probably make it so that we’re all going to be screaming at each other, and nobody will be able to understand what’s go ing on.
SHIRLEY: They’re having a hard enough time already. (Laughter)
PAIK: It’s a good talk show. Better than most talk shows you see.
BILL: You see, I work with electronic image, and I’d rather work, for the most part, without people.
SHIRLEY: You’re lazy.
BILL: No. I’ve done several things with people, and you’ve seen them.
SHIRLEY: I never saw you do anything with people, except help me.
BILL: The Billy Graham tape. I didn’t direct him. I did the thing with the San Francisco Cockettes. You saw that. You liked that.
SHIRLEY: If you ask me whether I like tapes I’ve seen, if you ask if I’ve liked film tapes I’ve seen, sure, I have.
BILL: I did a live show with a strobe at the Kitchen, but that’s besides the point. I would prefer to use a medium without people because as soon as I involve people in the medium, I lose some--of the control, and for a lot of pieces I would prefer to have total control. I would like the interaction with the audience to come, not on a cerebral level where you sit there, watch the tape and think of what I meant, but where they sit back, relax and think of other things, and then have the tape affect them in such a way that they’re carried along, and they can think their own thoughts and add their own imput into it on a highly personal level, on an individual level.
SHIRLEY: You’re misundestanding, though, the role of the video director. You’re confusing him with the videomaker, let’s call him. The videomaker can control, is the one in charge of, the situation, and he sends out broadcasts out over the air, or across the room, to himself, whatever he wants, and when you want to control a situation, fine. But I don’t see the process as being of that short a duration. First of all, I see it as constantly continuing. Already in the United State, the American people go to sleep, go to work, and watch video. If you ask them what they do, most Americans watch TV, and that’s their occupation.
BILL: I guess so. I don’t watch TV.
SHIRLEY: So what I’m suggesting, in the six hour day that the average person puts in, there’s a great deal more time to explore many things in relationship to any input, any process, any kind of back and forth thing. So, I’ll give you my great fantasy, what I call the Pleasure Palace Theater of the Future. And it’s something like Mercer Street, but instead of being a bunch of separate people who have come in and rented space, this is on e big overall space, a kind of labyrinth maze, and that as you go from room to room, you can go through many experiences, from dance, to music, you can eat, you can take a sauna bath., you can play chess to Mozart, you can see live theater. Jud and Paik know this well because several years back (Laughter) we described the same event. I haven’t yet found that 200,000 dollars to even get the first thing, but it’s an architectural space, something that would certainly get anybody out of the house. Otherwise, I, for one, plan to stay right smack in my house and watch TV, until you send me something else over the cable so I can turn on the cable, or else I may stay in my house and play bingo’- via the cable. But, other than that, I don’t think we’re in any disagreement. I think you either don’t understand, or just don’t accept the implications of what I’m describing, something very big that will include watching tapes made electronically or however. I personally would like to feed film inputs to my tapes because they give me certain images I cannot get otherwise.
BILL: It’s just the average artist’s inability to communicate with anybody else. (Laughter) I agree with what you’re saying perfectly. And I didn’t understand it, right? So there’s a communications gap, which I find happens a lot between people who are always striving to communicate.
SHIRLEY: No, I think it’s very important for us to exaggerate what we say. In other words, I will not stand publicly for electronic films versus video as a live process art form, because unless I scream loud and clear for process.
BILL: You would never get it.
SHIRLEY: We won’t get it at all.
BILL: I feel the same way about electronic image. Unless you sit there and shout: “You need this machine which will do this,” people look at you like: “What do you do?” “Well, I do videotapes.” “What sort of people do you tape.” “I don’t tape people at all; I deal with electronic images.” They say: “What does it look like?” and unless I have my portable video playback unit there, or my studio, I can’t even begin to show them. It’s become totally strange. Walter must have the same experience.
JUD: For years, it’s been: “What kind of films do you make?”
SHIRLEY: Thank you. Jud. I was just going to say, I make films about people and I never make films about abstract objects. That was not my thing, that’s all.
WALTER: The FCC says there something wrong with the television; they’re going crazy when they see things like that.
SHIRLEY: I like them fine. But then, I usually admire what I don’t do. As do we all. But I think Jud is a very good example. Jud’s been in and around the video scene since its very conception, way before I even knew it existed, and yet he has remained very faithful, no matter what he uses as input, to the kind of filmmaking that he believes in, that he’s been doing for many, many years. And Paik’s work resembles Paik’s work, whether it’s music, or whether it’s his tapes.
WALTER: Or whether it’s an interview. (Laughter)
SHIRLEY: Why would it be anything else? And I remember seeing Walter’s things the first time, and flipping out because he was playing around with TV with images we would get all the time with a TV screen, even though we all admit that the problem with things keeping themselves together technically is tough, and it isn’t going to be much longer before we see large groups of people, across the city, across the world, all different kinds of art imagery produced, using this medium for distribution.
JUD: That’s for sure.
SHIRLEY: And that’s why you compared it earlier WBAI, because the whole thing with why Gene Youngblood feels so strongly about it, and when I met him at Paik’s house last fall, I suddenly got the impact of the meaning of it, what access to this medium is going to mean, because he described himself sitting in California, a film critic, not being able to see films, which is, of course, insane.
JUD: When we’re talking in terms of opening up channels, it’s like gradually being able to feel more and more different parts that we never knew existed of our nervous system.
SHIRLEY: That’s indeed true.
JUD: And what perhaps has to happen culturally at this point, and what we are talking about now, is just like the first injection of stimulant into this mass nervous system.
SHIRLEY: One of the things, of course, that’s fantastic is this idea: we’re having a conversation now that’s really marvelous. We’re really inputting a great many ideas. Now, unless people sit at home with a cassette and record it for themselves, they won’t be able to play it back and at their own leisure re-examine it. And this is, of course definitely true with images. You go to the movies, and you’ve got to look back each time. Let’s just think for a moment of the videocassette and what that’s going to do. We can have these things just like we have books and records, and that’s going to make a big difference’-too. I’m busy right now trying to write, which is not my thing at all, and I realize that in the few moments we’re spoken here, the next year’s worth of articles have been written.
WALTER: Ah, maybe I ought to start writing.
SHIRLEY: No, I think we should do more ways of talking actually, because it’s a good way of communication.
JUD: As you get more in non-verbal communication, you discover that words have an entirely other importance.
PAIK: And hire a professional editor to edit it, so it will be as good as anything.
BILL: You’d have to get someone who’s literate. Like Shamberg came to guest lecture at one of my classes at NYU, and he asked me to write down something, and I asked him how to spell every word because I never learned spelling.
SHIRLEY: You talk alright, like I do.
BILL: Alright, but not well. And I said to Michael, I’m sorry, you’ll have to write it down yourself. I’m illiterate. And he said, post-literate. (Laughter)
SHIRLEY: Well, that’s a nice compliment.
BILL: There’s an interesting thing that hinges on what we’re talking about. It was a sort of scary talk I had with Paul Kaufman, who’s the Executive Director at the National Center For Experiments In Television at KQED on the West coast- actually there are three of them- and he’s the director of that one. I asked what he thought was going to happen in terms of abstract and strange video art forms in the next few years. And it was, of course, the summer before the election, and he said: “I think Nixon will be re-elected; everybody will feel sort of suppressed and stop a lot of their protesting, and we’re going to be the Soma producers. We’re going to produce pretty patterns and nice television so people can sit at home and not go out and protest, and sit back and get high and watch tape.” Now, I see it differently too, otherwise, I’d be totally seared; but it is a scary thought.
SHIRLEY: But I see something much more exciting going on now.
BILL: Opening sensory, new tactile, new sensory, orgasmic feelings, through image and sound, electronic image and electronic sound, added in with old art forms which you can now put in a cassette and review paintings or old pictures frame by frame, and do intense study. It does imply something of going more into yourself, and getting out of politics, and that’s sort of a frightening though, in some ways.
SHIRLEY: Up until that very last sentence, I was absolutely with you. And then, I will just take this deviation here. If you look at a very interesting phenomenon, which is all the people, many of them violently anti-Chinese, anti-Mao, who returned from their first visits to China and their first reaction to it, you get a very interesting phenomenon because all they report is that there is a group of people now in the world who are happy at the moment doing what they’re doing because they see a positive future based on the best parts of their past. And, here, we all feel kind of floaty lost. This is a very political statement I’m making now, that if we saw our roles as having to learn these new skills we’re talking about, so that the technology makes possible the communication web, to really start to cross, we too can become part of what the Chinese are going through, without or with the kind of revolutions they had to go through to attain what they did. It might be possible in the future, just through communication, through information passed to people, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Nixon in the White House or who it is, because the power of the people stopped that bombing in North Vietnam, no matter what anyone says. There’s no question about that. It didn’t stop the fighting.
WALTER: Maybe we’ll get the communications web then.
SHIRLEY: But when we get it, we better jolly well have used this period perfecting some of the techniques. I, for one, find it difficult to do something that was never asked of me before, though it’s been asked of jazz musicians for years: the fact that a jazz musician can play and improvise within a group. He hears what he plays, and at the same time he hears what other people are playing. What do we do with our eyes and our bodies? Dancers know something about it with their bodies. We don’t know anything about that with our eyes. Now this is a skill we’re going to have to learn, a totally new skill for the human being. There was no other way he ever needed it before.
PAIK: That’s very true.
SHIRLEY: And it’s a very important thing to look at this period as practice time, or getting together time. It’s true; our heads are in front of the reality of things, but our skills aren’t.
PAIK: For instance, from that moment of time that man-monkey stood up and we had man, until the time we could draw, first, say the painting of 5000 B.C. good painting in a way- it was a million years we took just to learn how to use it. OK, we even use cave painting still a lot of times, and from 5000 B.C. to now is a very short time still.
SHIRLEY: Because you have to look at it not just as passive input, Bill.
PAIK: I think it is very important that we got a new hand, telecommunications.
SHIRLEY: Right, a new tool is going to make man.
PAIK: This new tool takes a very long time, and now the smart way of many, many experiments should be done because we cannot say that this is video, and this is video art, now, you know. We cannot say that.
SHIRLEY: No one’s ever defined for us what painting is either.
PAIK: Art is a very elusive concept.
SHIRLEY: I think that’s something we all have to do, busying ourselves perfecting our talents to create electronic images, a skill that we’re all going to need.
PAIK: That’s very important.
SHIRLEY: I am busy learning things having to do with movement, fine. That’s what we need. We need all our different inputs.
JUD: It’s rather like studying the zen of electronics.
WALTER: Yes, zen electronics.
BILL: Jud knows me and I think he may be poking fun at me. Jud and I teach a course together and jud knows that the only book I require in the course in how to use a half-inch portapak is the book ZEN IN THE THE ART OF ARCHERY (NOTE: by Eugen Herrigel.). People then look at the equipment in a different way. Instead of saying, in the standard Western approach: “This is a machine that I’m going to battle it out with,” they should look at it and say” “This is something that I’m going to have to incorporate into myself in order to be able to use it.
SHIRLEY: I agree with you, but I’m very curious about what Paik wants to say now, because I wonder about how he felt about being able to be p art of something like the Experimental Television Lab.
PAIK: My position from the beginning was, though I’ll do all that I can do, that I thought the best thing I can do is not to exercise any of my personal influence., so that it can be as open as possible, and then, I thought of doing as Lao Tzu said., the doing of not-doing.
SHIRLEY: By giving people access to what you have developed.
PAIK: Yeah, yeah. Of course, it was a very hard decision first, like in 1970, the various things I had already developed for ten years, and then to make a machine, and to liberate it or not to liberate it. I thought many, many nights. And one day, I knew it, that I should go off, and that day I said I will practically not use it. I made one whole year of movies with Jud Yalkut, so that I don’t play video synthesizer. It should be an open thing. Therefore, video art should be as open as possible, and also therefore all environment and all non-videotapable art. For instance, in a panel discussion with George Stoney, Gene Youngblood and Russell Connor in Minneapolis during the first video art competition, I said: “You are supposed to be video art competition, but what you are doing is single channel videotape art competition.” (To WALTER) I’m sorry, you won, and it was a very good tape. It was a good thing they discovered Walter. It was all a good thing, but the name was at fault, and I didn’t submit anything. And the thing is that video art and videotaped art are different, and we are also thinking of environment, and that is also different. I always think about the profound meaning of Paul Ryan’s thing which very few people know. Paul Ryan has this time-delay line and self-analysis. I think that’s very important.
YES AND NO is an experience in one’s own balancing of positive and negative feedback. Set up two videotape machines with a single tape. The first machine records you and the second plays the recording back on a five-second delay. According to how you feel, start with saying YES or NO into the camera. If you start with YES, when that comes back on the monitor five seconds later, you can either switch to saying NO to your YES- and so on and so on. All manner of ambivalence can be explored in this way .... (Piece at Brandeis show) ... “VT is not TV. Videotape is TV flipped into itself. Television, as the root of the word implies, has to do with transmitting information over a distance. Videotape has to do with infolding information. Instant replay offers a living feedback that creates a topology of awareness other than the tic-tac-toe grid.
- PAUL RYAN.
SHIRLEY: My daughter, Wendy, is involved in something that’s fascinating.
SHIRLEY: Yes, of self-analysis with video which could end up being something like a Proustian novel, and that’s a whole other possible thing.
PAIK: What I’m quite interested in what we are doing now with Jud is freezing time. Why are we, why suddenly, take a portrait of a great man? It used to be a job for a painter, and the painter’s job was how to make it better. Then they invented photography, and that became the job of a professional photographer, and when it became very cheap, it became everybody’s job, you know. So Paul Ryan’s portapak is the same thing, all beginning with “P”.
SHIRLEY: How about a film I once made called PORTRAIT OF JASON, which, by the way, I thought was a videotape. I thought when I finished it I thought, when I finished it, I could hire myself out as the modern day portrait painter. You know, for $1000, I’ll come to your home and do your film on you.
BILL: One of my first revelations In video, when I started working with electronic image, I would keep the camera on myself as I was playing with the thing, because I wanted a live image to input into this mess. After awhile I realized that I had the bad habit of picking my nose.
BILL: You discover it. But after awhile, you’re watching all this tape I decided it didn’t matter anymore.
PAIK: Actually, George Stoney said the same thing. That’s really interesting.
SHIRLEY: What I’ve done is, I set up my first equipment so that the monitors and the camera were right there together. From then on, no one ever looked through a lens or a viewfinder in my house. We looked in the monitor. But then Viva said: “Aren’t you going to make people self-conscious?” The answer was: “Of course. They go through a period of self-consciousness, of enjoyment, of vanity, and then they go beyond it.” And it’s fabulous. I have finally gotten where I will let people take still pictures of me, which I never could do before, because I was really insecure about my image.
JUD: It’s like the Gurdjieffian idea of self-remembering, and video feedback is making us more able to do that instantaneously, to train ourselves to do it.
JUD: Yes, simultaneously, because we can train ourselves to do as things are happening, to be aware of what we’re doing at the moment that we’re doing it, and be right on top of it.
PAIK: Yes, like Paul Ryan.
SHIRLEY: It will change how people who go out with videotape deal with themselves, let’s say, everybody wants to show everyone else in the world something of themselves. We’ve given them the means to do it themselves. No longer do we have the interpreter; we’re that for ourselves now. There’s this dating game at Antioch College they’re into- the kids- it’s perfect; it’s a very good video symbol. You come and for x number of dollars, you make a ten minute tape of yourself, and then you want a date with somebody, you can come in and look through all those tapes and see what the different people look like, and you choose somebody to go out with. It’s a very good idea.
PAIK: It’s much better than a computer.
BILL: We must have that at the Kitchen.
WALTER: That’s the kind of thing the TV LAB should be doing, and broadcasting it, too.
SHIRLEY: We could do it at the Kitchen, and pay for the tape because a person would pay, say, ten dollars to be put into.
WALTER: The video data bank.
SHIRLEY: Video Date Data. (Laughter) Dada. D-A-D-A.
BILL: This is where you could get your $200,000 for your Pleasure Dome.
SHIRLEY: Oh, you mean I could gradually take $2 off of everybody as they came in, out of the $10
BILL: And it goes to a good cause, the Pleasure Dome.
SHIRLEY: Bingo in my house is cheaper. I run a bing game on the cable. Why not? They do it in Chicago.
WALTER: Which cable?
SHIRLEY: They have apartment buildings which have been wired up for cable in Chicago, and there are young kids sitting there making quite a mint of money running bingo games for the apartment houses. Fine, why not?
WALTER: That’s right. The cablestations in Canada play bingo too.
SHIRLEY: I want the money to come to us so we can continue doing our thing.
PAIK: Actually, the latent, sleeping demand or use for video is so much.
SHIRLEY: It blows your mind.
PAIK: For instance, the reason I am not I is because when I started working at Binghampton [note: Binghamton is correct spelling] Community TV Center- Binghampton is a sleepy small town.
BILL: Was- (Laughter)
PAIK: In upstate New York. Actually, there were university and then town people. There were three Binghamptons: one was university, which is quite far; another is IBM people; and another part is old Binghampton which is centered on Johnson’s Shoe factory. There are three completely different types of people on income. And when you see a house, you know where they belong. Anyway there was hardly an introduction, just sleepy town. Then Ralph Hocking set up the TV Center, with seven portapaks, and nobody cam to rent it out. His job was to rent it out free, and nobody comes. First week, one guy; second week, two guys, and then, in two months, people just kept coming, all kinds of people, firemen, policemen, and of course, young people, and the poets, and clergymen. For instance, they still had hula- hoop competitions going on. And now, they really have a waiting list for ten portapaks a month.
JUD: That happened with public access in New York City, too.
PAIK: And then we made a video synthesizer and, of course, nobody used it. For months, nobody, and I had a very bad conscience to make that, to spend so much money, with nobody using. Then, slowly, slowly, two week waiting period, even the video synthesizer.
SHIRLEY: Well, you know, that was the history of the portapak. Remember, three a month, now 33,000 a month.
JUD: And how many people per portapaks.
SHIRLEY: Yes, one portapak goes to many people. It’s not a little home toy quite yet. The implications are extraordinary.
PAIK: That Binghampton case.
SHIRLEY: Just think, that community that’s sitting there, all sleepy and separate, where one person didn’t get to know another, and I don’t know if they have cable-or not, but if they did those tapes would go out over cable, and what a different change. P I AIK Because it happened in Binghampton. I lived in Freiburg, a small German town, a university town. The only sexy thing in town was the undergarment advertisement.
SHIRLEY: That was the big turn-on.
PAIK: That was the most sexy thing, you know. Martin Heidigger lived there, and Edmund Husserl. It’s like the birthplace of existentialism, Frieburg, near Switzerland. And Binghampton was on that level, you see.
BILL: They will never talk to you again, Nam June.
SHIRLEY: Why? Well, it’s changed the sex habits of the world. Put your own portapak up and make your own porno.
BILL: That’s right. They have them in Tokyo.
SHIRLEY: I see it as a live action thing, frankly.
BILL: I have trouble lighting the set. (Laughter) I know it’s a skill you have to perfect; that’s what I say.
PAIK: Very interesting. You just talked about how we have to learn to use our senses. So, there are three classical visions: Plato said that the word “conception” is the most important thing; St. Augustine said that sound is the most profound; and Sinoza said that vision is the most profound. Now, TV commercial has everything. (Laughter) But still, another interesting thing: when Doug Davis videotaped his honeymoon with Jane, in some motel in Vermont, and then on the bed. They showed it silently, and I told them: “Turn on the sound” and they didn’t turn on the sound.
SHIRLEY: That’s interesting. It made it personal when the sound went on
PAIK: So sound is profound, no?
SHIRLEY: There’s no doubt that all the inputs make it. Anytime you have a medium with something missing, like on radio now, people can’t see our funny faces, so they’re missing part of the fun.
JUD: But they can run around doing something else.
SHIRLEY: Yeah, right.
PAIK: That audience is so important.
SHIRLEY: By the way, one of the things that’s struck me so much about video; in theater, you have to go to the place, and in film, in order to see it. But with video, the place is something we have to start to question. Where do you see it? It can be both ways.
PAIK: It can be anywhere.
SHIRLEY: It’s quite a different thing when something comes into your home.
PAIK: The most interesting thing about NET’s two channel production, which I saw, the most interesting part was when Bob and Ray intercepted and met in the middle. That was fantastic.
SHIRLEY: That was the whole trip. And when they took the rope to pull, and they got it wrong in the tug-of-war, so that instead of being out of one monitor into the other, they got it a little mixed up so they were both in the same monitor on the edge, and suddenly you understood that’s what integration is.
PAIK: And also, both disappeared- in the middle. That is a genius idea. That’s what the video medium is- silence.
SHIRLEY: I once discovered something very funny. I was doing what I call Sculpture Tapes, where you take three cameras and you put the monitors one on top of the other, say, like a body is, head, torso, feet. And the people watched while they were being taped, and what was interesting was that, in the playback, the bottom monitor, which was the feet, bad nothing much happening, and that’s where your eyes went all the time. Not up to the busy tops, and all the moving around, but to these dumb feet which just stood there, or just sat. That’s what I’ve learned actually very much from oriental art.
Once, when Paik came to my house and we were playing with my stuff, he took a live camera and set it up so that it had one of those absolutely perfect kind of Japanese etching qualities., just the edge of something, the edge of a monitor showed, a little frame, and suddenly your eye can’t go into all my fancy images. It kept going back to this quiet.
JUD: The quiet center.
SHIRLEY: The power of observing quietly while action goes on around is another thing that only video input can do, because you need the live feed to the present moment.
PAIK: My thing is that the future, because I am now studying radio quite much, the degree of freedom we will have in the future.
SHIRLEY: Yes, we have to do something about that.
PAIK: Freedom need not be first amendment. Medium free. When you go to movie, you are prisoner of time.
PAIK: Alright. There’s no other thing there.
WALTER: A physical prisoner.
PAIK: On television, you have half freedom, because you turn on the lights a certain amount, and you can do a certain amount of your things, read some books.
SHIRLEY: And also, the commercials were a good tought.
PAIK: Right, so you can leave the room. Or you don’t watch it. You come only for the commercials. And number three, radio gives you more freedom, because you can all information while you type a letter, and doing things, and even watching TV. Therefore, if in the future we can have one silent TV station, where you can get all the information through visuals, while we can choose our own audio source, from records, radio.
JUD: That could be aided, of course, by having a larger visual screen.
SHIRLEY: The day of the mosaic screen, where you have many inputs on a wall.
PAIK: When you stop broadcast, there’s more important information.
SHIRLEY: But the reverse of what you’re talking about, too, where the sound is played for you on the video, and you can make your own image.
PAIK: Of course.
SHIRLEY: And all the variations that come from understanding that.
PAIK: I have the feeling that all talk shows, including TONIGHT show and Dick Cavett, will eventually go back to radio, because there is no reason to see Johnny Carson every night.
SHIRLEY: What I find though is this; I like to get a look at how somebody behaves.
SHIRLEY: There’s something interesting about personal behavior. Let’s take an aging movie star; that’s very interesting to watch. There are all sorts of strange possibilities. But there are ways of doing it that don’t demand so much, for instance, when there’s a talk show on, I find myself more listening to it
PAIK: And you do other things.
SHIRLEY: I now live alone, and find something very interesting. In the old days, I used to turn on my record player when I came into the house. Now, I turn on my TV set, because in many ways I can deal with it merely as sound input, and busy myself. Not too often do I turn to look, and the soap operas are fine with just sound. They really don’t need much image, and game shows too. But, where I see the major difference in what we’re talking about, is having access. At the same as we have access to all of this to the fact that if you are living in Korea, and you are living in San Francisco, and you are living in Brooklyn.; and I’m in New York, and you’re in Minnesota.
WALTER: Why me in Minnesota?
SHIRLEY: I don’t know; you won the prize there. Then we can, also at will, use what used to be called the videophone. We can also plug into each other.
WALTER: That’s the thing to be able to get back to.
SHIRLEY: That we get back and forth.
WALTER: Sometimes we’ve got to talk back to the television set.
SHIRLEY: You can send video images. You can say: “Shirley, shut up for a while; I’m sending you for the next half hour beautiful images; enjoy them.”
BILL: Why are we restricting ourselves to one screen? I used to sit at home and have two air programs on simultaneously, or I would flip dials. I’m a very big one for sitting there and zooming around. The information needed really to digest two or three prime time shows isn’t very much. You can flip the dial and have them all laid out.
SHIRLEY: That’s true of television. It isn’t, I don’t think, quite so true of the kind of concentration that some of us expect with other things. In other words, I think then that the skill we were talking about developing, is that we have to learn to integrate images so that multiimages can be played, and that they can connect in a way that makes it possible to watch.
BILL: Like Nam June’s last show at the Kitchen.
WALTER: Or Shigeko Kubota’s RIVERS.
SHIRLEY: Shigeko’s RIVERS was a very good example.
BILL: This is all, I think, important. As Nam June said in his show: “You can allow your eye to do the editing.”
SHIRLEY: Well, it does what life does
BILL: To some extent. You can have a four-wall screen, or a six-wall screen. You can have the floor and ceiling. You can be inside a cube where there’s something different everywhere.
PAIK: Like quadrasonics, we’ll have quadravideo.
BILL: I think this is the next step.
SHIRLEY: The average living room, twenty years from now, has screens of many sizes on the wall, the way they have paintings. And they can still hang paintings on the opposite wall.
SHIRLEY: Do we still have more time.
JUD: I’m going to over-record, so we can edit.
WALTER: This is edited. This is what should be left on.
BILL: This is process radio. (NOTE: The program was broadcast exactly as it was.)
SHIRLEY: Still a real filmmaker.
PAIK: One thing- let me say one thing.
SHIRLEY: Last word.
PAIK: No, not last word, but one word. Everybody says one last word. Like in court. (Laughter) Finally, Harvard University, with many hundreds of years of history, and many thousands of scholars, you know, finally got one guy, and of course Harvard man has to research books to get degree, so he got research.
PAIK: Of course. They always get better than we do. (Laughter) He did all research about what was written about the telephone and, for the last hundred years, or 110 years, that the telephone was existing, only two essays had been written about the telephone.
SHIRLEY: Oh, that’s not nice.
PAIK: One is McLuhan; another is another guy. In a hundred years! When-television.
PAIK: Yes, telephone changed our lives, and only two guys wrote about it.
SHIRLEY: You know what’s very interesting. There’s this old Don Ameche movie about how he discovered the telephone; Don Ameche was the actor who played Bell, right, so there he is discovering the telephone, and finally when he and his partner have gotten it together, and they’re going to have a big show to get money so that they produce telephones- what they do is- it’s an absolutely perfect example of what our lives have been like- One of them is in Springfield on one end of the phone, and in Boston, all these rich people are watching, right, and guess what he sends out, the first telephone message: “Hello, hello, you there? and you get there, and then a group of barbershop singers do a little number, there’s a cornet solo (Laughter) and then it’s all interrupted because the landlady, who they own rent to, interrupts than., saying: “You have to get out. Sorry, you can’t do this.” She kicks them out, and everybody looks and says: “Well, it’s a nice toy, but really what is it? Who in the world would ever want to use it.” And that’s exactly the state we’re in now. It’s a good analogy.
JUD: There must be a tape of that somewhere.
WALTER: We’ll hire a Harvard man to research it.
SHIRLEY: I find my survival now, which is in a way very nice, by thinking of all this, as in the beginning of any new art form, as something one plays with. You must look at it more as a toy. Don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy it. Because it’s in that enjoyment that the significance of the thing is finally revealed. We don’t really know yet all the possibilities.
BILL: And we won’t, for several million years.
above copied from: http://www.experimentaltvcenter.org/history/people/pview.php3?id=30&page=1